VATICAN CITY—Pope Benedict XVI took part Friday in a Vatican meeting over the fate of the Legionaries of Christ after revelations that the group's founder had fathered children and abused seminarians. The case against founder Rev. Marcial Maciel is being closely watched as the Vatican faces pressure to aggressively confront abuse. Benedict had not been expected to participate in the meeting between five Vatican inspectors and the Vatican's secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone.
But the Vatican spokesman, Rev. Federico Lombardi, said Benedict had decided to stop by the meeting to greet participants and make an appearance. He said he did not expect the pontiff to attend the whole session.
The Vatican ordered an investigation in 2009 after the Legionaries acknowledged that Maciel, who died in 2008 at age 87, had fathered a daughter who is now in her 20s and lives in Spain. The Legionaries have also acknowledged that Maciel had also sexually abused seminarians and that two men are claiming to be his sons.
The five inspectors—all bishops appointed by Rome—spent eight months visiting Legionaries communities to get firsthand knowledge of the conservative order and its work. On Friday, they were reporting their findings back to the Vatican.
A statement was expected after the session, though Lombardi said earlier this week that no decisions are expected. The pope, Lombardi said, will make the final decision on the order's future after studying the case. The Maciel case has long been seen as emblematic of Vatican inaction on abuse complaints, since sex abuse victims had tried in the 1990s to bring a canonical trial against Maciel but were shut down by his supporters at the Vatican.
The late Pope John Paul II had long championed the Legionaries for their orthodoxy and ability to bring in vocations and money.
In 2006, a year into Benedict's pontificate, the Vatican instructed Maciel to lead a "reserved life of prayer and penance" in response to the abuse allegations.